Some Positive Reviews of “A Year of Biblical Womanhood”

I’ve noted two negative reviews of Rachel Held Evans’ new book A Year of Biblical Womanhood, but we would do well to note the appearance of three positive reviews as well. They are written by scholars of the Bible, and each of them generally commends Evans as a reliable guide to the interpretation of Scripture. They even suggest that she has a more sophisticated hermeneutic than her complementarian critics. In their own words:

Ben Witherington“Rachel Held Evans is not just another woman using the Bible to write about women’s experiences. She actually is quite adept at Biblical interpretation and has done some good reading and research and exegetical spade work when she is dealing with any kinds of Biblical texts, including the so-called ‘texts of terror’. Whether you agree with her interpretations or not, they are always possible, and often plausible and fair and deserve respect and close scrutiny.”

Peter Enns“Evans is not mocking the Bible, but exposing the illegitimacy and randomness of a literalist reading of the Bible; the book is an exercise in biblical hermeneutics.”

Roger Olson“Evans uses a lot of Scripture to show that anyone who tries to take it all literally will simply fail. She says ‘The Bible isn’t an answer book. It isn’t a self-help manual. It isn’t a flat, perspicuous list of rules and regulations that we can interpret objectively and apply unilaterally to our lives.’ (p. 293) “

It will come as no surprise to most of you that my reading of Evans’ book is not leading me to the same conclusion that these three have reached. In fact, the book’s most glaring weakness is its treatment of scripture. More on that later. In the meantime if you want to read some reviews by biblical scholars who appreciate and affirm Evans’ approach to the Bible, read the three linked above.

33 Responses to Some Positive Reviews of “A Year of Biblical Womanhood”

  1. David Westerfield October 30, 2012 at 12:47 pm #

    Sorry Roger, but Joyce Meyer uses a lot of Scripture in order to defend her positions too 🙂

  2. Zach Kennedy (@zactschp2) October 30, 2012 at 12:51 pm #

    It’s disappointing to see Witherington giving a positive review here. I’ve appreciated his contributions to defending the historicity of the NT. For him to lend his support to this book is a bit of a let down…not surprised at all by Enns and Olsen.

  3. Don Johnson October 30, 2012 at 1:02 pm #

    I am not a respeccted theologian, but I did give her a positive review at Amazon, even tho I also discussed 5 places where I disagreed with her interpretation, I did not see them as demolishing her argument. My concern with the negative reviewers is that the people that would most be helped by reading such a book will think they know enough about it to simply avoid it and not read it for themselves.

    I find myself in the perhaps curious position of NOT affirming many of RHE’s handling of various Scripture texts, but affirming her overall message.

  4. Denny Burk October 30, 2012 at 1:08 pm #

    Don, I imagine that many traditional egalitarians would share your view.

  5. Chris Taylor October 30, 2012 at 1:22 pm #

    “… exposing the illegitimacy and randomness of a literalist reading of the Bible …”

    Would the real slim ‘literalist’ please stand up, please stand up? . Why don’t you publish your stuff where I can find it. It’s not fair that you apparently only send your manuscripts to certain scholars. Why don’t you defend yourself in all the academic journals? Speak up man, they’re making you look bad. Learn from Romney, hold a debate, let people see you for who you really are. Stop letting all these evangelicals define you.

  6. Brian Beal October 30, 2012 at 1:52 pm #

    It seems unhelpful for scholars like Dr. Witherington to say she did good exegetical work without supporting how that is actually the case (and yes I read the full review). Bottom line is Kathy Keller dismantled how RHE did not even do basic biblical interpretation correctly in formulating her thesis for the book.

    To be unfamilar with Christ be the fulfillment of the Levitical Law is just unacceptable for someone claiming to write a book based on what the Bible says. Dr. Witherington and Olsen should have the clarity to at least call her on that.

  7. Suzanne McCarthy October 30, 2012 at 9:03 pm #

    Kathy Keller did not dismantle Rachel, but completely betrayed her own position. In an earlier paper, she and her husband defended an elected government because of the chance of abuse of power. They probably will actually vote! They participate in an election system and as such completely betray the scriptures and cave into a contemporary sensibility. I don’t see how Kathy Keller cannot see that if she votes, she does something that is not modelled in the Bible.

    The really sad thing is that they show so much concern for citizens who are under a potentially abusive authority, and therefore promote democracy, but they don’t show the same concern for women who are often under abusive authority in the home. This is beyond me. How can they not see that they deny scripture entirely by participating in a form of government that is not biblical, but they don’t think women should deny scripture by not wanting to be over-ruled in a marriage. Do they actually think that the average husband is any more moral than the government?

    I know women, wives of labourers, ministers, seminary professors, professionals, and so on, all in Christian marriages, who have been beaten into submission. Where is their voice in this dialogue? Rachel makes it clear that she at least has a mother bear attitude toward these women. She at least demonstrates some Christian spirit in what is otherwise a bit of a dessert.

    • Brian Beal October 30, 2012 at 9:12 pm #

      That is theocracy Suzanne, and a fallacy on your part to accuse Kathy of inconsistency because she does not believe church and state are synonymous.

      • Karen Cox October 31, 2012 at 9:30 am #

        I notice you don’t address Suzanne’s point about abusive husbands.

    • Edmund Garland October 31, 2012 at 9:27 am #

      The Kellers real problem is that they have found themselves having to balance on the TGC tightrope of complementarianism while actually leaning much closer to egalitarianism in thought and practice.

    • Rob Gates October 31, 2012 at 11:41 am #


      Suzanne, I have no idea how you you went from your belief in the evils of an elected government to wife abuse, to the importance of dessert!

      • Suzanne McCarthy November 3, 2012 at 12:29 pm #

        Hi Rob,

        Had to chuckle at this, yes dessert is always important. As they say, “Life is uncertain, eat dessert first.”

  8. Suzanne McCarthy October 30, 2012 at 9:15 pm #

    Not at all! The NT clearly teaches submission to a dictatorial government. Anyone who lives in the US has lost on that one. In fact, I see every citizen of the revolution as a hypocrite if they believe that women should live in submission within an authority and submission marriage but as citizens men and women may live in a country born out of revolution, in which one can protest the government or vote it out of power.

    • Akash Charles October 30, 2012 at 11:16 pm #

      wrong, governments changes even in old testament times, and many kings were put in by the people.

      Secondly by following government rules like traffic rules you are submitting!

      BTW its interesting to know that you are an anarchist

    • Andrea Reyes November 1, 2012 at 8:36 am #

      The U.S. Government at all levels – local, state and federal – permit citizens to protest and vote for those in power over them. So it is hardly being a wild-eyed hypocritical revolutionary for a citizen to avail herself or himself of these lawful means while still paying taxes, breaking for red lights, and everything else involved in being a good neighbor and law-abiding citizen. It is not the either / or proposition that you suppose it is. Not in modern U.S. society. There is nothing in the Bible that forbids lawful participation in a political system by followers of Christ. You say that there is no election system in the Bible but there is no air conditioning in the Bible either, so are we then to conclude that those with HVAC somehow betray Scripture as well?

      As for women abused and terrorized by men, they too should know that they means of redress that do not violate Scripture (and it should note, does not involve merely grinning and bearing it). Yes, yes, and again yes, Christians, men and women both, should reach out and provide respite to those who are oppressed and sinned against by their husbands.

      All the same it is a fundamental misunderstanding and misrepresentation to claim that a woman who submits to her husband in marriage is always and only a victim of oppression and abuse who must be liberated from Scripture. We all have anecdotes of women we know, and all the complementarian women I know are heirs of women like Marguerite de Navarre, Hildegard of Bingen, Sor Juana de la Cruz, women who loved the Lord with all their hearts, minds and souls. (And women who joyfully paid the costs, wrongly imposed on them, of doing so.)

      • Suzanne McCarthy November 3, 2012 at 12:37 pm #


        I never said that a woman cannot choose to submit to her husband. But she should not be taught the following –

        She will go to hell if she does not believe in the submission of wives

        Suffering abuse in the home is imitating Christ and therefore glorifies God

        Joyfully submitting to wrongdoing is a good thing

        Or conversely abuse is the consequence of rebellion on the part of the wife.

        On the contrary, abuse is the result of a husband or wife being addicted to control because of their own inadequacies. If the wife vows to submit to a controlling husband, he gets the very thing he is addicted to, and the spiral into violence and dysfunction begins. It is very much like supplying alcohol to an alcoholic. There is nothing wrong with wine but it should not be forced on people.

        • Suzanne McCarthy November 3, 2012 at 12:53 pm #

          In short, I have been in many churches which preach from the pulpit the submission of wives. I have yet to attend a church where the minister preaches from the pulpit that the abused wife should go to the police. That little piece of information is not preached. I have never yet heard a minister preach that an abused woman should simply walk out and get a divorce. And yet, that is what I was told after the fact!


          When you talk of “paying the cost, wrongly imposed” you have to know that the children are included in this.

  9. Rick October 30, 2012 at 10:15 pm #

    As a young man it is very confusing to see such variety, for lack of better words, in the way scholars interpret the bible. Should we shrug our shoulders and keep our distance from those whom we disagree with or should we engage in debate every time we disagree?

    • Akash Charles October 30, 2012 at 11:17 pm #

      Agreed, its so confusing that you start to think every passage/verse you read can be interpreted differently,

    • Tom Parker October 31, 2012 at 5:51 am #


      It is a vicious circle. The major problem I have is when some say their interpretation is the only one and start challenging your salvation experience and throw out the L word.

      • Akash Charles October 31, 2012 at 5:55 am #

        well I seem to be confused about the many interpretations, it seems like if I do not like a passage I can just find another interpretation to satisfy my opinions rather than ever be corrected by the bible,to prevent this does it not mean that God is clear and not fuzzy.?

  10. J S Lang October 31, 2012 at 8:39 am #

    I definitely agree with Peter Enns: she isn’t mocking the Bible – she is mocking Christians who say the use the Bible as their guide to life (meaning conseratives/evangelicals). Not to sound unkind, but the whole book, which I have read and reviewed elsewhere, is like a thumb in the eye of evangelicals. The whole foolishness of her abiding by the kosher laws, wearing a headcovering, etc seem intended to show that evangelicals don’t abide by ALL the rules in the Bible (and wouldn’t they look silly if they did!), so in effect we’re hypocrites, and it’s up to smart, sophisticated people like Evans to set us free from our attachment to the Bible. And yet, like most people of her mindset, she takes the familiar position of saying “take the Bible seriously, not literally” – meaning we’re back in Liberal Land, picking and choosing which parts of the Bible we like.

    If you look at some of the five-star reviews of the book on Amazon, you notice that most of them (not all), appear to be more like marketing copy than reviews. The reviews that actually quote the book emphasize that Evans is VERY committed to the Bible, yet the book as a whole shows she is not. If I can make an analogy, a man goes shopping with his wife, assures her he loves her and never looks at another woman, and while they’re out shopping he winks at half the women they encounter. The wife protests, so he says, “Honey, I TOLD you plainly, I never look at other women!” Who does the women believe – her own eyes, or what her husband says.

    Sorry, but I just can’t side with Enns, Witherington, et al. Her book really is a mockery of the traditional Christian view of the Bible, but she managed to disguise it under the book’s pleasant tone. Didn’t fool me, but I fear it’s fooling lots of readers.

    • Tom Parker October 31, 2012 at 10:32 pm #


      You said:”meaning we’re back in Liberal Land, picking and choosing which parts of the Bible we like.”

      What is Liberal Land?

      Conservatives certainly seem to pick and chose which parts of the Bible they like. What do you call that?

  11. The Seeking Disciple October 31, 2012 at 1:04 pm #

    I don’t know about Witherington but both Enns and Olson deny the inerrancy of the Bible so that should be your first clue that they would agree with her.

    • Tom Parker October 31, 2012 at 10:33 pm #

      The Seeking Disciple:

      Please define what you mean by innerancy.

      • The Seeking Disciple November 1, 2012 at 3:20 pm #

        Without error.

        • wggrace November 3, 2012 at 10:09 am #

          Olson does claim to believe inerancy according to its definition by Piper.

          • The Seeking Disciple November 3, 2012 at 2:19 pm #

            I have never seen him state that. Where can I find that? At his blog he implies that he denies inerrancy but affirms infallibility. I have differed with him at his blog over this. Olson goes out of his way to attack inerrancy and those who hold to it.

          • steve hays November 3, 2012 at 4:04 pm #

            That’s just a ruse. Olson clearly doesn’t believe what Piper believes regarding commands ascribed to God.

    • steve hays November 3, 2012 at 4:02 pm #

      Actually, Enns has gone well beyond that denial. He now doubts if God even exists. So RHE can take comfort in knowing that an atheistic-leaning agnostic recommends her book! What a resounding endorsement!

  12. Kamilla Ludwig November 1, 2012 at 1:24 pm #

    Rob Gates,

    Now you know that McCarthy, in an echo of an earlier McCarthy, finds wife abuse everywhere — even under the bed.


    Now I understand your wisdom in posting these links. It didn’t take much pushback from me on Enns’ second post on RHE/YBW to bring out progressivism’s favorite ad hominem: psychoanalyze the conservative/orthodox opposition. I was tempted to respond in similar manner by making reference to his former institution but I resisted.

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